Grandparent and ChildOver the past few years, Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) Extension has taken the initiative to inform and support grandparent caregivers, or those who have primary care and custody of their grandchildren. In Kentucky, 57,141 children live in grandparent-headed households (5.7% of all the children in the state). The number of grandparents serving as grandchild caregivers has dramatically escalated in recent years for a number of reasons, including child abuse and neglect, substance abuse, joblessness, mental illness, divorce, poverty, deaths, homelessness, and incarceration.

Raising grandchildren often brings unexpected and long-lasting lifestyle changes for the grandparent caregiver. To aid with this adjustment, the Grandparents as Parents (GAP) Conference was started in 2002 by the Bluegrass Region Grandparents Raising Relatives Coalition.  The 8th Annual Bluegrass Regional GAP Conference was held on March 25 in Lexington and attracted over 400 attendees from all across the state.  This conference was for grandparents, caregivers, other relatives, and professionals to meet others and learn about topics for relatives assuming primary care of children.

"The GAP Conference was organized and presented in an effort to offer kinship families support," said Diana Doggett, Fayette County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences and coalition member.  "Each year the coalition identifies speakers that can highlight national and Kentucky trends in state and federal legislative efforts regarding guardianship and custody. In addition, volunteer attorneys provide free consultations to grandparents and other relatives raising children."   

Fourteen different workshops addressed topics relevant to this special population, such as legal challenges, nutrition, helping children overcome hurt, adult drug and alcohol abuse on children, and stress management. Services offered at the conference included volunteer attorneys who were available to provide free consultations about guardianship, custody, child support and related legal issues to grandparents and other relatives raising children. They were also able to help interpret any legal documents an attendee may have, assess their current legal status as a caregiver, and offer advice regarding legal steps that may or may not needed. The keynote speaker and presenter was Pat Owens, grandparent and President/CEO and co-founder of GrandFamilies of America.

Additional resources are available to grandparents who are parenting their grandchildren through FCS Extension. For example, Carole Gnatuk, senior extension specialist, recently created a Grandparents Raising Grandchildren short program for Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association members. Gnatuk is also working with UK professor Dr. Amy Hosier, Extension Family Life and Gerontology Specialist, in building a comprehensive Grandparents Raising Grandchildren set of resources and curriculum.

Family and Consumer Sciences Extension (FCS) improves the quality of individual and family life through education, research, and outreach.  This multidisciplinary field focuses on building assets of individuals and families to address the perennial problems faced across the lifespan. 

photo © 2007 Jupiterimages Corp.